Do PR agencies really need to say they are PR agencies?

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Earlier this week, US-based communications media company Golin Harris proudly announced that it is in fact a PR agency. This might come as a shock to those of you who have always known Golin Harris to be just that — a PR agency. But was the company making a strong point about the role of PR in the marketing mix or was it simply trying to reinforce its unique position as a global PR powerhouse? 

By Richard Stone, managing director, Stone Junction 

The point Golin is making is that PR has integral value, without cheapening itself by inferring value from another discipline. It builds brands, gets leaders elected and creates sales value; without having to say it is something else.

This is true in 2018, but it has also always been true. There has never really been a need to say you are a ‘communications agency’, ‘integrated marketing agency’ or ‘digital full-service agency’ – because PR agencies have always been all those things.

In my own career, there has never been a time when I’ve shied away from offering strategic advice, particularly about communications. If you have, could you argue you really work in PR?

And Stone Junction was founded because, way back in 2006, there was no digital agency servicing the engineering, scientific and technical sectors. In fact, in 2007 we created the concept of content PR to illustrate exactly that.

However, Golin does have a strong point to make about ‘earned first creative’ being a core part of a PR agency’s brief. When Stone Junction launched its own in-house design studio, at the start of 2017, we were very clear that it existed to make us the best PR agency around, not to make us into a start-up design agency. Content PR means all content and, using Golin’s perfect words, creative first.

Just a marketing ploy?
I have no doubt that Golin Harris is also seeking to jockey for status in the global top ten. Part of the messaging involved in its new position is that it is the only ‘out and proud’ PR agency in that group.
The side effect of course is that it reinforces the company as being in that group, despite its turnover being only one fifth of the very largest agencies in the world. It’s a smart move.

Richard Houghton chaired a recent PRCA Leader’s Lunch that I attended, and during that session he made the point that he couldn’t name the unique position of more than two of the global top ten PR agencies. I, like most people in the room, could only name one.

I can definitely tell you Golin Harris’ unique position now.

The question this makes me ask is, could you do the same for any technical PR agency you know or work with?

I can do it for us, for sure. International, technical, content PR. If you want to know more, you know what to do.

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